When I pick up a book, I normally don't pay much attention to which audience it's intended for. Sure, I don't really go for, say, straight up romances, or historicals, or westerns, or even horror, but it doesn't matter to me whether it's young adult or straight-up adult. I'll read it and I'll either like it or I won't.
So, of course, I got to thinking (I do that a lot, don't I?) what the real differences are between young adult and other fiction. The obvious one occurred to me, of course. The intended audience is different. But what does that really entail for the author? I mean, read some more modern YA, you'll find things that I never expected to see in books for teens. Not that I have a problem with it—I think it's about time people present more adult themes in a format for teens—but it never occurred to me that it would be all right to put gruesome death, actual drug use, rape, or sociopolitical meltdown in YA. It might just be my conservative town, where we didn't get to read those things, but it blurs the line a little, if you ask me.
Well, I think I've pinned down, if not the entire equation, at least a few of factors. I could be wrong but, should I ever decide I want to write YA, I figure it can't hurt to try and apply them to the writing.
Most obvious, and easiest to apply, is toning down. An occasional, full-blown issue can work in YA, but you pretty much want to keep things a little sedate. Nothing terribly graphic, as a rule. Not necessarily because of the audience—today's teens and young adults are some pretty twisted little souls, and those that aren't pretend to be—but for the publisher, and the parent. If they find out there's a graphic murder or some other such thing they deem appropriate, you're not going to see the same number of readers as if you straddle that line between too much and not enough.
How? Put in teenage and young adult issues. No matter who your intended audience may be, they want to see relevant issues to them. That's why YA books are so often set in a school setting, since that's familiar to the audience. Deal with grades, teachers, parents, budding romance, drinking, drugs—all the things you remember worrying about and having to deal with as a teenager, those are fair game for YA books.
The third one is a little more intangible. People want to be able to reread a book for years and years. If you look at all the really great YA books out there, they grow, they have layers of conflict that unwind themselves the older the reader grows. The best YA books hold their appeal through the years, because they grow as the reader does. It can be tricky to pin that ingredient down, but when you've got it, you've got the reader.
That's just my insight. I'm less a YA writer than an avid reader, but let's just call that research.
I'm off and away for now,